John Constable Stoke-by-Nayland (full-size sketch) about 1835-7

John Constable
Stoke-by-Nayland (full-size sketch) c.1835-7
Oil on canvas
Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago, Mr and Mrs W.W. Kimball Collection

Constable told his friend William Purton in 1834 that he was ‘foolishly bent on a large canvas’ and the following year wrote to him of his ‘Stoke’: ‘What say you to a summer morning? July or August, at eight or nine o’clock, after a slight shower during the night, to enhance the dews in the shadowed part of the picture, under “Hedge row elms and hillocks green”’.

Although the origins of this Stour Valley image seem to be in 1810 when Constable was commissioned to paint an altarpiece for the nearby church at Nayland, this large sketch was the furthest he got with it in terms of scale. A similar view in his series of English Landscape mezzotints is accompanied by a text which says: ‘The solemn stillness of Nature in a Summer’s Noon, when attended by thunderclouds, is the sentiment attempted…’

Constable drew on sketches made many years before in creating this complex and personal response to his native landscape. He vigorously employed his palette knife to evoke the masonry of the church and its ‘venerable grandeur…solemnity and pathos’. It seems likely that had he made a finished version, Constable would have added the rainbow found in the mezzotint, a motif he used in a number of major works.

Works on display

John Constable, Stoke-by-Nayland (full-size sketch) c.1835–7

Oil on canvas
Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago, Mr and Mrs W.W. Kimball Collection

This full-size sketch was almost certainly intended as preparation for a finished work Constable would have painted had he lived. Constable wrote of the picturesque qualities of the Suffolk ‘wool’ churches he loved, such as Stoke-by-Nayland, that: ‘These magnificent structures are often found in scattered villages and sequestered places, out of the high roads, surrounded by a few poor dwellings, the remains only of former opulence and comfort… These spots were once the seats of the clothing manufactories…’